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One of the joys of living in Carroll County is observing wildlife close to home. Creatures great and small ranging from chipmunks, deer and even black bears visit yards to seek food, water and shelter. They dine on what nature provides, as well as what we humans often do to "set the table" for them with bird feeders, bird baths and salt licks. However, wild critters can also empty garbage cans and invade garages, sheds, and even homes, creating a nuisance for us and a danger for pets.

Wild animals are sources for many debilitating or life-threatening diseases that affect pets and humans. Foremost in the minds of pet owners is rabies, which is always fatal if pets are not inoculated. Raccoons, skunks, bats and feral cats are the major sources for rabies.

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The feces of many wild animals contains microscopic organisms that can cause gastro-intestinal disorders and distress, such as coccidia and giardia, as well as internal parasites like hookworms, tapeworms and roundworms. These nasty lifeforms can live in soil and water, and might be absorbed through the skin if pets walk on fecal-contaminated areas. Puddles and streams contaminated with rat urine might contain the potentially deadly leptospirosis bacteria, which causes kidney failure and can be transmitted by contact with skin. Dr. John Kable, of Airpark Animal Hospital, recommends that Carroll County dogs receive the leptospirosis shot as a core vaccination to prevent infection in dogs, their owners, veterinary staff and kennel workers.

According to Kable, the Baylis ascaris roundworm is especially dangerous to humans — particularly children — and is carried by raccoons that defecate in "latrines" located near people. Because dogs can also carry this roundworm, Kable recommends using a broad spectrum heartworm product monthly year-round in order to help prevent the spread of roundworms, hookworms and whipworms, as well as fleas and heartworm disease, in your dog.

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Pet owners, take note: Rabies, giardia, internal parasites and leptospirosis are contagious to humans.

Wildlife also serve as a source for external parasites, like mites, fleas and ticks, that cause debilitating conditions like anemia as well as Lyme and other serious tick-borne diseases.

There are also dangers of injury, disappearance, and death when pet and wildlife encounters occur. Our affectionate dogs and cats might be suddenly transformed into predatory animals at the sight or smell of wild creatures and a frantic chase begins. If physical contact between animals occurs, a bite or claw wound, disembowelment from a deer's hoof or antlers, poisoning or strangulation from a snake could end a pet's life. In addition, a pet could become disoriented and unable to find its way home after the chase, die from exposure to extreme weather conditions, or be killed by disease, starvation or a vehicle.

Unattended cats and small dogs are easy meal targets for birds of prey, foxes, coyotes, and other predators. Bite wounds from nonpoisonous snakes might become infected. Toads can be intriguing playthings for cats and dogs, but their skin secretes an irritating substance that might sicken pets.

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"Skunked" pets reek from an odor that is beyond description and their eyes are usually irritated. Regular pet shampoos and the old-fashioned tomato juice treatment are ineffective for removal of Pepé Le Pew's signature scent! Please read and save the "Skunk Odor Removal Recipe and Instructions" located below.

To prevent or to deal with pet and wildlife encounters please follow these suggestions:

•Feed pets indoors or remove outdoor food bowls at night to prevent attracting uninvited diners.

•Don't add meat scraps to compost piles, and remove overly ripe fruit and vegetables from gardens. Also, clean your barbecue grill after use to reduce animal-attracting odors.

•Secure trash cans with bungee cords or other devices to prevent animals from prying open the lids.

•To prevent unwanted "guests" from entering your home — like skunks and raccoons — do not install pet doors. Install chimney caps, and block access to vents, garages, abandoned buildings and sheds because wildlife might try to take up residence in such structures.

•Always supervise pets outdoors, even if you have a fenced-in yard! Wild animals are capable of digging under, climbing, flying or jumping over fences.

•Electronic fencing systems do not prevent other animals from entering your property. A pet's inborn prey drive might override whatever boundary training that was provided.

•Always keep dogs on a leash when visiting parks and walking on trails.

•Microchip pets so you can be reunited if they get loose or become lost after pursuing another animal.

•Before letting a dog out at night for a final "potty" break, step outside, shine a flashlight around the property and watch for pairs of eyes glowing back at you! Carry a "shaker can" — an empty soda can with a few pennies in it with the hole taped over — shake it, then watch if the intruder vacates the area. Raccoons might disappear by climbing up fences and trees. If you are unsure about what kind of creature is looking at you, take your dog outside from another door and walk him on leash while carrying the flashlight.

•Keep all pets' rabies and core inoculations current, along with heartworm and Lyme disease tests. Use veterinarian-recommended flea, tick and heartworm preventatives year-round.

•Have your pet's stool checked annually, but bring stool samples to the vet if changes in consistency, color, or odor are noted or if blood is present. These might be symptoms of parasites, bacterial or viral infections that could have been acquired from exposure to wildlife.

•Walk dogs on a leash to prevent them from drinking from streams and puddles, and avoid ponds where waterfowl gather because such areas might contain feces and urine contaminated with harmful bacteria. Rinse your dog's paws and body after a walk if puddles cannot be avoided.

•If your pet is injured by a wild animal, immediately contact a vet to determine if a rabies booster is required as well as an examination and treatment of wounds to prevent infection.

•Always wear protective gloves when handling a wounded pet to prevent contaminating yourself with the wild animal's saliva and blood!

By taking proactive measures we can protect our pets and happily enjoy and co-exist with the wildlife that surrounds us.

Skunk Odor Removal Recipe and Instructions*

Ingredients and equipment needed:

•Rubber gloves

•Hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds

•Saline eye solution or warm olive oil to flush eyes if irritated

•1 large fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide — 4 cups, but have extra on hand.

•½ cup baking soda

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•1 teaspoon liquid dish soap (such as Dawn)

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•Large bowl for mixing peroxide, baking soda and dish soap — not in a bottle because it can explode!

•Spoon for mixing ingredients

•Towels

•Water source for rinsing pet thoroughly with a hose attachment.

•Old washcloth or clean rag

Odor removal procedure

1. To be done outdoors or in a basement sink on a dry animal: Leave the pet outside if possible to prevent carpeting, curtains, and fabric-coved furniture from absorbing skunk odor, or put the pet in the basement or laundry room.

2. Before examining the pet for wounds, put on the rubber gloves because skunks can carry rabies. A rabid skunk's saliva can enter cuts and scratches and spread rabies to humans. Clean the pet's wounds immediately with hydrogen peroxide, then contact a vet who can examine and treat the wounds and provide a rabies booster even if the rabies inoculation is current.

3. Check the pet's eyes for redness because skunk spray is very irritating. Flush the eyes with saline solution or warm olive oil — 5 drops or more per eye — but consult with vet if unsure.

4. Wear the rubber gloves while mixing the peroxide and baking soda in the large bowl, then add the liquid soap and stir thoroughly; it might foam up on the pet's skunk-spray areas after it has been applied.

5. Soak washcloth in the mixture and apply to your pet's head by rubbing it around the muzzle, ears, neck and head, avoiding the eyes.

6. Saturate the remainder of the pet's body and coat with the mixture and leave it on for 10 minutes.

7. Rinse the pet's face in a backward motion to prevent the soapy water from getting into the pet's eyes. Lift the pet's chin to allow water to move down the pet's body and not into the mouth region where the mixture could be licked.

8. Rinse the rest of the body thoroughly with warm water.

9. If any residual skunk odor persists, repeat the whole process, rinse and dry the pet.

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